All entries for September 2011

September 26, 2011

Remembering the unmemorable

During Subject Studies this week we have been encouraged to consider ‘what do you remember most about English lessons at school?’ As I ask myself this question, my fingers are poised in anticipation. I am staring thoughtfully into my past. My eyes blink willingly at the computer screen whilst I wait for enlightenment. But as I struggle to summon any distinct memories of English at school, I am brought to a disappointing conclusion: the way I was taught English at school was distinctly unmemorable. I love English, but I don’t accredit much of this love to my experience of English at school, particularly during my forgettable lower school years.

I used to groan at the thought of text analysis. Exciting, meaningful texts were lumped together into mass produced anthologies. Annotations were dictated to pupils and revised repeatedly until an exam came along. These exams were simple exercises in regurgitating annotations which had been taught to us as ‘correct’ interpretations. For the most part, creativity was only allowed in controlled doses. Sometimes, the most sophisticated task I was required to perform during Key Stage Three English lessons was deciding which colour highlighter I would be using to drearily copy the teacher’s tedious annotations into my anthology.

During my lower school years, suggesting alternative ideas or interpretations was something of a taboo, an underground activity which was only safe to do at home with the doors locked and the curtains shut. An exaggeration perhaps, but I find it makes me sound like more of a rebel when, in fact, I was just a bit of a geek.

It seemed that independent thought was strictly forbidden in English lessons until I finally reached Sixth Form. School felt a bit like a game in which you were required to work your way up the Key Stages, unlocking privileges as you went along; the ultimate being freedom to think for yourself. But Sixth Form was an exciting place where school uniform policies were a thing of the past and you were allowed to have actual meaningful discussions in English classes. This is where my experience of English was vastly improved and I felt more supported by my teachers.

One of my biggest teaching inspirations came not from school, but instead from the film Dead Poets Society. I am not ashamed to say that Robin Williams (or rather, the fictional English teacher Mr. Keating) had a profound effect on my desire to learn English. I wanted to be a member of The Dead Poets Society. I wanted a new perspective. I wanted to stand on tables and read literature in caves at midnight. There’s the geek getting involved again...

However, English at school was not all doom and gloom. I have one very vivid memory of the day I came across Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’, and, yes, I found it in one of those anthologies I seem to have such an aversion to. Since that fateful day, Frost’s poem has been something of a personal motto. It has affected my approach to learning, teaching and life. All grumblings aside, with regards to my experience of English at school, it is true that ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- / I took the one less travelled by, / And that has made all the difference’.

On reflection, I need to moan less about my experience of English at school and turn my grumblings into a resolve to be better and do better. I want to be Mr. Keating (but perhaps without the sex change). It is not acceptable to provide pupils with a shoddy impression of a subject like English. Why? Because it is literature, it is language, it is heritage, it is culture, it is meaning, it is expression, it is empathy, it is creativity, it is writers, it is readers, it is speakers, it is listeners, it is communication, it is important, it is an entitlement.

For me, it is a RESPONSIBILITY.

September 17, 2011

Facing the PGCE Giant

‘Then David took his shepherd's staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the pocket of his shepherd's pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.’ 1 Samuel 17:40 (The Message)

I think I know something of how David felt when he was standing with just a sling and a stone, preparing to face Goliath. An over-statement, perhaps; but I feel uncomfortably ill-equipped to do battle with the challenges that are to face me this year. However, I find encouragement in the notion that David defeated Goliath with determination, faith and a measure of skilful accuracy.

‘The / readiness is all.’ (Hamlet, A5 S2, l.234-237)

If readiness really is all, then I feel I am in for a rough ride. What does it mean to be ready anyway? Do we talk about readiness with regards to subject knowledge, practical experience, and a specific set of skills? Or is it just a state of mind? Perhaps we are never really properly prepared for the task ahead, but we can still achieve great things by storming into situations with a sizable dose of hope, ambition and self belief, catalysed by adrenaline.

‘If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ (Isaac Newton)

We have been encouraged during Professional Foundation Week to consider the question “Who or what has brought you to study a PGCE at Warwick?”. For me this is an exercise in identifying the giants in my life; the people who have inspired me, the places that have defined me, and the experiences that have changed me. I hope to eventually be able to stand on the shoulders of these giants so that I might be able to see a little further and become a teacher who is able to improve on what has already been acheived.

‘How are we, never more than the trees that bore the fruit, suddenly to become the gardeners? Just that seems to me the art you must learn, who are actors and workers at the same time.’ (Bertolt Brecht)

The PGCE for me is also a lesson in flying the nest. Here’s me thinking I did that three years ago when I began my undergraduate degree. Now, having graduated and started a new course en route to a career in teaching, it turns out there is a fair bit of growing and flying that still needs to be done. It is time to start cultivating my own future, giving thanks for the nourishment I have already received, but with a sight to take control of my own personal and professional growth here at Warwick.

September 2011

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